Eddie Jordan hasn’t been an NBA head coach since he was fired in 2010 after one failed season in Philadelphia. Three years later, Jordan is now a college head coach at Rutgers and hopes to help the program return to the level of respectability that it had during his playing days, when he led the Scarlet Knights to the 1976 Final Four.
No matter how he fares at his alma mater, the Wizards’ most successful coach in the past 34 years has already decided that he’s done seeking a head job in the league.
“After my last few experiences, I did not want to be a head coach in the NBA,” Jordan said in a recent interview. He wouldn’t elaborate on what led him to make his decision, stating simply that it was, “all of it combined.”
The Wizards won at least 41 games and made the playoffs in each of his past four full seasons in Washington. He takes pride in knowing that the Wizards and Detroit Pistons were the only Eastern Conference teams to make the playoffs in every season from 2005 to 2008.
“That’s a heck of a stat,” Jordan said. “Only two teams.”
Jordan coached the East in 2007 all-star game, when the Wizards spent a brief period with the best record in the conference. But that season ended poorly and also represented the deterioration of his relationship with Gilbert Arenas, whose career derailed in April 2007 after Jordan benched him for being late and Arenas injured his left knee in a collision with Gerald Wallace shortly after entering the game. The Wizards also lost Caron Butler to a broken hand and Cleveland swept them in the first round. They returned to make the playoffs the next season, but Jordan knows that the NBA never left room for comfort.
“No matter how great you’re playing, you’re always walking on that cliff,” Jordan said.
The Wizards only advanced beyond the first round in one of their postseason runs, losing three straight times to Cleveland, and Jordan said injuries were only part of the problem.
“We got LeBron,” Jordan said with a laugh. “Everybody is like, this guy is good. No, this guy’s great. He’s unstoppable.”
Jordan joined forces in Los Angeles last season with Mike Brown, his former coaching adversary during those intense playoff battles in Cleveland. He also returned to the franchise that he helped win the 1982 NBA championship and expected to add a few more rings to the collection.
“When I was hired there, there was no Dwight Howard and there was no Steve Nash and Mike Brown said, ‘I want you to help me with the offense,’ ” Jordan said. “We went through the preseason running principles of the Princeton offense that Kobe had asked about and that Mike Brown presented to Kobe and they agreed it was good for the Lakers. We lost eight games, but Mike Brown wasn’t concerned about winning. He was like, we have an older team. Kobe has nagging injuries and we didn’t want to wear our starters out. But our starters were very efficient and our bench was very short, so you saw that throughout the whole season. The 0-8 preseason, we weren’t concerned about winning, we wanted to get guys in tune. Then Nash got hurt, then Dwight got hurt, Mike Brown got fired and it was an outcry and frankly — I think a lot of people in basketball would know — Mike Brown and his personality and his style, is great for solid NBA teams, but the Lakers are different. The Lakers are different. It was even hard for Mike D’Antoni to get it going.”
The Lakers grossly underachieved despite assembling a star-studded roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Jordan accepted the job with Rutgers before the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
“Mike Brown hired me. He was awesome. He allowed me to do a lot in a large role and when he was gone, Mike D’Antoni was gracious enough to keep me there and I really appreciate both those guys hiring me and retaining me. [Former Bullets/Wizards coach] Bernie Bickerstaff and I were reassigned to the back of the bench and we were okay. We were happy to be a part of it,” Jordan said. “It was a season of injuries, non-chemistry, getting to know each other as the season went along. Clashes of personalities and approaches and then it was more injuries. The injury factor and chemistry kept it dysfunctional to where you couldn’t have great success.”
And when the Rutgers program became a national embarrassment after video of Mike Rice showed him kicking, taunting and tossing basketballs at his players, Jordan decided that he needed to go back to school.
“I thought, maybe I could be a really solid assistant. It’s almost a perfect place,” Jordan said of the Lakers. “We could win championships and I could sit there, and be like Tex Winters and let Phil Jackson take us championships and I could retire in the sunset, but it didn’t go that way.
“I had three years of not doing this for sure, and this is what I’m built for, to be a head coach,” Jordan said. “It’s great to be a coach again. I jumped right in, didn’t have to talk to anybody. I knew what I was getting into. I wanted to prove that I could do it. But I did not want to be a head coach anymore in the NBA.”